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Athletics: Salo’s passion translates into hall of fame career

Brainerd girls tennis coach Lisa Salo is one of five people to be inducted into the Brainerd High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Brainerd High Tennis Coach Lisa Salo
Brainerd Warrior girls tennis coach Lisa Salo on the high school courts in September 2020.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Bruce Thompson joked that Lisa Salo just has more time than he ever had.

This was after the retired Brainerd Warriors boys and girls tennis coach finished his round of golf at his winter home in Arizona.

Thompson was asked about Salo after it was announced the current Brainerd head girls tennis coach will be inducted into the Brainerd Warriors Athletic Hall of Fame May 2 at Brainerd High School. She’ll be joined by Rod Reuer, current Brainerd boys head track and field coach, and former athletes Florian “Slats” Fairbanks, Kelly Rosenthal and Madison Smith.

There will be a meet and greet 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 2, to meet all the hall of fame inductees. That will be followed by the Brainerd Warriors All-Sports Banquet.

“I am always impressed by her passion and her dedication to the sport,” Thompson said about Salo. “She just loves the game and she loves the kids. What more can you say?

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“She’s very skillful at what she does. She’s very prepared at what she does to the point of being over-prepared. She’s a great individual and this is a great award for her and all of those hall of famers.”

Salo moved into the head position after Thompson retired, but she’s been involved with both Brainerd tennis programs for many years through summer camps, youth leagues, competitions and offseason invites. She was also the head coach before Thompson.

“She really impresses me with how she works with the young kids,” Thompson said. “She’ll do the young kids ages 4, 5 and 6 and then 7, 8, 9. I’m not sure how they break down, but she has a great talent for working with those young kids and getting them interested in the sport. She has that energy and passion which is great.”

That energy and passion started early.

For her, it was always about making sure the kids had the best experience possible.
Charlie Campbell

Salo grew up on a farm outside New York Mills. Barn windows weren’t safe with her spending hours hitting against the side of the barn. The side of the barn looked remarkably like Salo’s childhood idol Chris Evert as she pictured herself battling the major champion winner in three-set marathons.

When she could, Salo would bike into town and the tennis wall at the high school became her new barn. New York Mills had a tennis program and she excelled. Following high school, Salo’s passion and talents only grew as a member of the St. Cloud State University women’s tennis team.

That passion for playing tennis transformed into coaching. But she felt the pull to coaching at an early age.

“I love coaching,” Salo said. “Back in the day, coaching seemed like a natural path. I’ve always wanted to introduce kids to tennis. I always loved all the little tennis programs we’ve done. I’ve wanted to get kids excited about tennis. With that hope, they would continue to play as they got into middle school and high school.

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“So many of those little faces that I saw as 4 and 5 year olds, then they’re on my team as high school athletes. Seeing that progression is something I love. I love that high school coaching piece of helping empower these amazing athletes to just believe in themselves.”

While Salo loves the journey of a season, she is just as interested and invested once her athletes graduate.

“She continually follows the alumni,” Thompson said. “I mean, we’re all about kids, but she’s right at the top of being involved. She’s very positive and very enduring. She just really has a good rapport with all of the kids. We are there to help the kids and there is no one better.”

Salo_Lisa.JPG
Lisa Salo

Former Brainerd activities director and current associate director of the Minnesota State High School League Charlie Campbell said Salo’s ability to bring together young athletes, high school athletes and former athletes created a healthy and strong program.

“She’s certainly a special coach and she creates a lot of importance in those connections between past, present and even future athletes,” Campbell said. “She works really hard to get former Warrior tennis players to volunteer during the summer programs or even volunteering a few hours, which they freely do, and working with some of the elementary-aged kids in the summer programs. She has worked to create a real special culture and environment in that program.”

It’s Salo’s goal every year to make sure her athletes know they have options. She said she encourages everyone and will help them find a college home to continue their tennis progression.

“I tell all my athletes that if they choose to continue to play tennis there is a program out there. First of all, there’s a school for you academically. Then there is a program out there whether it’s NCAA Division I, II, or III or whether it’s club tennis. Having them keep that passion alive and continue on, that is what I absolutely love.

“I’ve tried to go watch former athletes compete. If I can’t be there in person I’ll watch their matches if they’re being streamed. I do keep track of them and I periodically contact them and I always tell them, ‘Once Warrior always a Warrior.’”

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And Salo continually pushes her former athletes to follow her into coaching. That’s another passion project Salo continually pursues as her daughter Mikinzee Salo coaches collegiately and former player and assistant coach Briana Rademacher is now the head girls tennis coach at Pierz High School, to name a few.

Salo finished her 17th season as the head girls tennis coach. Brainerd advanced to the Section 7-2A Semifinals. It was the Warriors’ first year in the section. But as soon as the season was over Salo was planning offseason training, summer camps and even next year’s practice schedule. It’s something she does every November. She said she’s constantly thinking about tennis. Campbell would not argue that point.

“Lisa was all about the details,” Campbell said. “She spent time looking at every detail and making sure things lined up the way she needed them to. For her, it was always about making sure the kids had the best experience possible. Every part of her program she takes it personally.

“She hopefully will laugh reading this, but it would be exhausting for her because there were things that were just impossible or hard for her to let go. Sometimes circumstances forced us to let go whether it had to do with the schedule, staffing or you name it. There are a lot of moving parts that go into a successful season, but every detail is important to her. She is so deserving of this and I’m proud of her.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.

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